Alexandru Nemoianu: „The Early History of the Romanian“

Without exaggeration, the early history of the Romanian-American group can be characterized as heroic, because it is heroic to come to a New World, to settle there, to adopt the ways of a totally new and unknown environment, and to lay the foundations of a community which continues to develop to this day. It is a historical period that should be admired for its brave and remarkable deeds, and a generation that remains as an example and a source of inspiration. It is a fact that the first Romanian-Americans were those who accomplished the most in the history of our group.

Romanians started to come to the New World in a larger number after 1900. They started to come after they heard through letters from their Saxon and Hungarian neighbors that America was a very rich country with unlimited opportunities. Those who immigrated at the beginning of the century intended to stay in America only for a limited period of time, enough to earn some money and the fare home. With that money, they planned to pay debts, buy land and build houses. In fact, that dream and that „plan“ illustrated how little those immigrants knew about the New World.

Only a fraction of those immigrants fulfilled the „dream“ of returning home; and, unfortunately, historical events made them bitterly regret that.

The real historical achievement of the first generation of Romanian-Americans was the initiation of the evolution of the Romanian-American group’s main characteristics, which in fact define it: the organizations, fraternal societies and churches, the effort to preserve its heritage; and the attachment to the principles of America and integration into the mainstream of American life. From a historical perspective, one can only wonder how it was possible for a generation of simple people with limited formal education to achieve so many things in such a short time. The only reasonable explanation is that those immigrants were people of character and with sizable life experience.

The majority of those who came to America had served in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army, had the basic understanding of a few languages and were accustomed with the life of a complex and cosmopolitan Empire. They were also healthy and able people who wanted to improve their lot. Those people (like most of what can be defined as the representative immigration to America) strongly believed that they had the potential to improve their lot, and most definitely had a strong will to improve their condition. What they resented was the perception that they lacked the opportunities to prove themselves. They possessed a very strong sense of identity and moral values; and, more than that, they were free people and acted accordingly. From time immemorial, they were accustomed to being self-reliant. With such an attitude, it was only a matter of time before they became part of a free and open society. Altogether, they were a worthy asset and the future proved that. Very interesting information about all the above mentioned aspects can be found in: Alexandru Bărbat, Dezvoltarea şi Structura Economică a Ţârii Oltului, (The Development and the Economic Structure of Olt Country), (Cluj, 1938), a book preserved in the library of the Romanian-American Heritage Center.

The book presents the evolution of Făgăraş (also known as the „Olt Country”), a province in southern Transylvania. It is a useful source of information for Romanian-American history, because one subchapter presents documentation about Romanian immigration from Făgăraş to the United States, and because a number of very accurate statistics show the Romanians from Făgăraş who settled in America were printed in the book’s appendices. Corroborated with other documents and placed in the historical context of the early Romanian-American life, the information presented in Alexandru Bărbat’s (a very serious historian) book helps to better understand our community’s evolution.

Alexandru Bărbat mentioned that 9,109 Romanians from Făgăraş immigrated to America between 1899-1913 and that most of them immigrated after 1904. The author mentioned that about two-thirds of those who immigrated were single men and that most of the women immigrated after 1911.

This is significant, because after 1911, the Romanian-American community entered a period of consolidation, and numerous families were formed in that time. The increased number of Romanian-American families were proof that the initial „plan“ of returning home started to be put on the back burner.

Another statistic shows that between 1911-1913, 1,605 Romanians from Făgăraş immigrated to America. Of this number, 74.7% were peasants, 19.3% workers and the rest were craftsmen and professionals. The percent of immigrants from the total Romanian population of Făgăraş was very high. Between 1899-1904, it was 2.6%; from 1905-1907, it was almost 14%; from 1908-1913, it was close to 7%. The percentage is even more impressive if we will remember that those were the most active members of the local communities. Regarding the relative decline in immigration after 1908, it should be remembered that after that year the Hungarian authorities (in accord with the Romanian religious leaders) introduced a number of regulations to discourage prospective immigrants. In order to receive travel documents and identity papers, the would-be immigrants had to present proof of their military records and all sorts of rather useless but costly certificates from the local authorities. In the meantime, the local authorities were instructed to delay the issuance of such documents. However, the percentage of immigration from Făgăraş was almost double compared with that from the rest of Transylvania, and represented one third of the total Romanian immigration to America between 1899-1913.

Each village from Făgăraş had a number of immigrants to America between 1899-1913, and among them, with a larger number of immigrants, were: Arpaşul (299); Beclean (82); Grid (61); Lisa (97); Părău (71); Porumbacul (110); Sâmbăta (156), Scoreiu (124); Sebeş (90); Vad (72); Ucea (121); Viştea (90) and Voila (67).

A very interesting fact is that in their overwhelming majority, those who immigrated to America from Făgăraş were land owners and respectable „fruntaşi“ members of the villages. That information confirms what we said before, that the Romanians who immigrated to America at the beginning of the century were hard workers in search of better opportunities.

In his book, Alexandra Bărbat presented a list of 145 Romanian-American businessmen from Făgăraş. They lived in each Romanian-American center existing at that time, and a larger number of restaurants, butcheries and groceries were owned by them. In addition, Romanian-Americans from Făgăraş owned real estate and insurance offices, drug stores (Nicolae Drugociu), tailor’s shops, printing shops (Iosif Drugociu); hotels, bakeries, funeral homes, auto shops, and other types of stores.

In Alexandra Bărbat’s book, two life stories were published that illustrate the economic evolution of the Romanian-Americans from Făgăraş. The first life story is of Nicolae Dates from Canton, Ohio. Nicolae Dates was born in the village of Netotu and was one of seven children of a family of peasants. From a very early age, he helped his father who used to sell animals for extra income. For two years, he was enrolled at the Hungarian High School in Făgăraş and for a while was a teller in Bucharest. At seventeen he immigrated to America. For a few years, he worked as an unskilled worker for railroad companies and in coal mines. Very soon, he was promoted to foreman. Together with a brother and a cousin (Spiridon and Simion Dates), he opened a grocery in Canton, Ohio: „Dates & Co.“ Very soon, he opened a restaurant and a liquor store; and, after World War I, he expanded his area of activity even more. He opened a chemical shop specializing in the production of a solution that dissolved the salts deposited on the walls of boilers and other closed receptacles. Nicolae Dates was a staunch supporter of the „Union“ and of the newspaper America. A very laudatory article about the activity of Nicolae Dates was published in the America Calendar for 1928.

The second life story published in Alexandra Barbat’s book is that of Gheorghe Flucsă from Detroit, Michigan. He was born in Sebeş and settled in America in 1909 with a younger brother. In the beginning, he worked in different plants, as an unskilled worker and later as foreman and supervisor. Later on, he opened a small business and became the owner of a movie theater.

The economic progress of the Romanian-Americans from Făgăraş was illustrated also by the fact that they used to send sizable amounts of money to the „old country“. Alexandra Bărbat said that immediately after the end of World War I, the Romanian-Americans from Făgăraş sent, in a matter of a few months, close to one million dollars.

The very detailed and impressive list of Romanian-American businessmen from Făgăraş, the life stories of Nicolae Dates from Canton and of Gheorghe Flucsă from Detroit, and the amount of money sent to the „old country“, proved an economic evolution characteristic of our group in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. The Romanian-Americans displayed an economic evolution passing from the stage of unskilled workers to that of skilled workers and small businessmen.

In his book, Alexandra Bărbat mentioned another very interesting fact. He mentioned that a large number of those who immigrated used to return for longer or shorter periods of time to the „old country“. According to the statistics, about one third of those who left the Făgăraş area before World War I revisited it. That information, even if brief, is very significant and deserves a detailed interpretation.

First of all, it should be remembered that a sizable number of those who settled in America in those years were age eighteen or younger. In fact, they „adjusted“ the truth regarding their age (those who were under the legal age were not admitted into the United States alone). Almost all settled permanently in America, because they were not eager to retry their chances with the immigration authorities in the United States or in the „old country“ where they had to perform military duties. In such circumstances, it is only reasonable to presume that the one third of Romanian immigrants from Făgăraş who used to visit the „old country“ were not the same persons. In this a number of features of the „mia şi drumul“ (one thousand dollars and the fare back home) became obvious: longing for the old country in combination with „Americanization“. It is well known that the immigrants came with the idea of staying only a limited period of time. They came with the hope of making money and returning home; and, they also brought with them a false image about America and the ways of the New World. The process of accumulating the „thousand dollars“ proved to be more arduous than anticipated. The second factor was that the new immigrants were influenced by the American way of life and adopted the mentalities of the United States. In fact, the visits to the „old country“, rather than strengthening the desire to return „home,“ fortified the decision to remain in America. In time, those visits became less frequent; and, conscious or not, the immigrants became Americans first with a limited and almost exclusively sentimental interest in the „old country.“ Significant was not the fact that some immigrants revisited the „old country,“ but the fact that so many of them returned to America. In other words, those recurrent journeys did not prove attachment to the „old country,“ but rather a growing and dominating attachment to the new country.

The above information proves that the Romanian immigrants from Făgăraş represented, at the beginning of the century, a significant percentage of the Romanian-American group, and that they had an important contribution to the development of our community.

ALEXANDRU NEMOIANU


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